By MARILYN VOGT-DOWNEY
NEW YORK-When four cops gunned down Amadou Ahmed Diallo in the doorway to his home at 12:45 a.m. on Feb. 4, they made the institutionalized brutality and racism of the New York City Police Department into an international issue.
The victim of this police murder was a 22-year-old African immigrant from Guinea in western Africa. Unarmed, described by those who knew him as “a pious Muslim never in trouble with the law,” Amadou died in a hail of 41 bullets from the cops’ 16-shot, 9mm semi-automatic weapons.
Nineteen bullets riddled Diallo’s body, in less than 10 seconds rupturing his aorta, spinal cord, lungs, liver, spleen, kidney, and intestines-and causing his immediate death.
The cops, part of the “elite” Street Crimes Unit (SCU) of the NYPD, claimed that they had killed Amadou because, according to one of the cops’ attorneys, “he was acting strange” and fit “in a generic way” the description of a rapist the cops were hunting.
Amadou was Black and the four cops are white. Police sketches of the rapist indicate that the “generic” similarity consisted of the fact that both Amadou and the suspect were Black men with a moustache-a description of many thousands of men in New York City.
Although the four cops through their lawyer claimed that Amadou had exhibited “aggressive behavior,” he was unarmed, carrying only his wallet, cell phone, and keys when they killed him.
According to friends, Amadou, a street vendor, had returned home from work at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 3. He spoke briefly with his roommate and then left their shared apartment in a two-story brick house on a quiet street in the Bronx to get something to eat.
The four cops-Edwards McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss, and Richard Murphy-prowling the neighborhood in plain clothes and an unmarked car, spotted Diallo in his doorway, “suspected” him of being the rapist, double-parked in front of his building, and within seconds drew their guns and slaughtered him.
McMellon and Carroll emptied their guns into Amadou, each firing their 16 rounds; Boss fired five shots and Murphy fired four shots.
The Bronx District Attorney’s office has not arrested the cops or even tried to interview them. The NYPD did, however, eventually confiscate the four cops’ 9mm automatics, replace them with service revolvers, and reassign the cops to administrative duty-of course, with pay.
A grand jury to consider whether to indict them was convened the week of Feb. 15.
Giuliani defends cops
Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, who has been an eager executor of the U.S. ruling class’s attacks on working people at all levels during his two administrations and who is notorious for promoting aggressive police behavior, expressed regret at Amadou’s death.
However, he defended the police and particularly the SCU, which over the past two years has been increased from 100 to 438 members.
Of the cops who killed Amadou, Giuliani said: “All had good records.” But that is not true. Three of the four have had brutality complaints filed against them with the Civilian Complaints Review Board.
McMellon, Carroll, and Boss had all previously shot “suspects.” Boss had murdered an unarmed man named Pat Baily in October 1997, a crime for which he has yet to be charged.
Due to the international storm raised by this incident, Giuliani was forced to cancel a two-day campaign trip to Texas; Giuliani is being groomed for national political office and planned to meet with Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Instead, he met on Feb. 7 with the Guinean ambassador to the United States, Mohammed Aly Thiam, and Guinea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mahawa Bangoura Kamara, in a public relations effort to feign concern about the death of the Guinean immigrant.
Thousands join protest rallies
Amadou’s murder prompted immediate protests of outrage, which have occurred almost daily since Feb. 4. For example:
- The Center for Constitutional Rights called for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
- The president of the United African Congress, Sidique Abubakarr Wai, charged New York City officials with flagrant disregard for African lives and condemned their failure to aggressively seek the murderers of “several dozen Senegalese cabdrivers who have been killed over the past decade or so” (The New York Times, Feb. 6).
- The leaders of “100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care” called for a federal investigation and declared the SCU “a danger to New Yorkers.”
- Amnesty International on Feb. 5 said the slaying “raises deeply troubling questions about the use of excessive force and police brutality and called for an independent commission of inquiry.” In 1996, Amnesty International had issued a study documenting police brutality and racism in New York City and calling for a system of broad civilian oversight.
- The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno asking her to investigate the shooting of Diallo.
- NAACP President Kweisi Mfume on Feb. 7 condemned the shooting as “excessive force at its worst” and called upon the U.S. Justice Department to “use every possible vehicle to get the facts involved in the case and make sure that justice is fair and swift” (The New York Times, Feb. 8).
- Aboubacar Dione, first consul of the Guinea permanent delegation to the United Nations noted that “people back home-the entire African continent-is following this case. They don’t understand why these four [killer cops] are still free” (The New York Times, Feb. 9).
Demonstrations and rallies of several thousand people were held on Feb. 7 outside the murder scene in the Bronx; on Feb. 8 outside the Supreme Court Building in downtown Manhattan; and on Feb. 12 when a memorial meeting for Amadou was held after noon prayers at New York’s Central Mosque, which Mayor Giuliani briefly attended.
Amadou’s mother, Kadiadou Diallo, who flew in from Guinea, and his father, Saikou Diallo, who flew in from Vietnam soon after the murder participated in press conferences and protests. They joined with thousands of others-many of them African immigrants-in demanding that the cops be prosecuted for murder.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a prominent New York City organizer, along with his National Action Network of protests against police brutality, organized the immediate protests and other events demanding the arrest of the cops and escorted Amadou’s parents’ during their stay.
Amadou’s parents refused to accept any gifts or token gestures from Giuliani or to meet with him in private until the cops who murdered their son were arrested. The parents enlisted the assistance of high-profile legal specialists such as attorneys Barry Scheck and Johnnie Cochran to press the case for prosecution of the killer cops.
Hundreds of the thousands of mourners who attended the Central Mosque memorial meeting stretched out their hands to touch Amadou’s simple pine coffin as it was carried from the mosque to the hearse.
On Feb. 13, thousands of protesters gathered in various parts of the city to say farewell to the Diallo family and Amadou. A 600-car caravan followed the hearse carrying Diallo’s body from a Harlem send-off meeting to Newark Airport. Amadou’s parents, accompanied by Al Sharpton, took the body to be buried in Guinea.
Upon their arrival in Conakry, Guinea, among the thousands who greeted the grieving parents were the Guinea government’s prime minister and entire cabinet and a hundred people wearing “Amadou” T-shirts.
Many accompanied the family and the body on the six-hour journey to Hollande Bourou, the Diallo ancestral village, where after a funeral attended by some 2000 relatives and family friends, Amadou was buried.
Meanwhile, since then, protests continue on a daily basis outside the Bronx courthouse where the grand jury is convened and in the streets. For example, on Sunday, Feb. 21, the entire congregation of the Love Fellowship Tabernacle, some 400 strong, left church and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to protest the killing.
The SCU: “We own the night”
The mayor’s office released figures hoping to minimize widely-held perceptions of police brutality: “Only” 19 civilians were killed by cops in 1998, “down” from 20 in 1997 and 30 in 1996.
However, according to Joel Berger, an attorney who has monitored police misconduct, claims of police misconduct rose 45 percent from July 1993 to June 1997. Monetary settlements to victims-paid by the tax-payers-went up 38 percent during that period, to $27.5 million.
To promote the reputation of the Street Crimes Unit, the NYPD claimed that the SCU with its enlarged number, less than 2 percent of the entire police force, is responsible for 40 percent of all gun arrests in the city each year. “But prosecutors have said the unit’s aggressive tactics, including searches and chases without probable cause, have sometimes led judges to throw out cases,” according to The New York Times of Feb. 11.
According to Eric Adams, a city police lieutenant who heads the “100 Blacks in Law Enforcement” organization, the SCU has “been given carte blanche to do as it will to the people of the City of New York, especially the African American community” (The New York Times, Feb. 6).
Another cop told a reporter for The Times (Feb. 15): “There are guys who are willing to toss anyone who’s walking with his hands in his pockets. … We frisk 20, maybe 30 people a day. Are they all by the book? Of course not; it’s safer and easier to just toss people.
“And if it’s the 25th of the month and you haven’t got your gun yet? Things can get a little desperate.” Each SCU cop is evidently expected to seize at least 1 gun per month.
Known for their motto, “We own the night,” some of the SCU cops designed a T-shirt for the unit emblazoned with a quotation from Ernest Hemingway epitomizing their bloodthirsty nature:
“Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it never really care for anything else thereafter.”
Removing Giuliani is not a solution
The aggressive policing supported by the Giuliani administration will not be stopped by removing Giuliani, as some protesters hope.
Giuliani’s policies, like those of all Republican and Democratic party politicians, are designed to serve the needs of the capitalist class, which is in deep trouble on a global scale because of a crisis of overproduction and declining profit rates. The capitalists need to drive down the standard of living of the working class and make people work for less.
Giuliani’s policies, as a result, are those prescribed by the capitalist rulers everywhere-cutbacks in social services, health care, and education; cuts in wages and benefits for workers; lay-offs; privatization of public services; and austerity budgets.
For example, on Feb. 19, the Giuliani administration announced it would implement a plan to compel New York City’s homeless to be enrolled in “workfare”-working as much as 35 hours a week for their welfare check-to stay in city shelters. This affects immediately 4600 families and 7000 single adults. Children of families excluded from shelters would be placed in foster care.
While cutting the social budget, however, the politicians can always find money for more police weaponry, increased police powers that undermine the Bill of Rights, more prisons, and a bigger military budget. Clinton just found an additional $112 billion to add to the military budget over the next few years.
Meanwhile, the police are encouraged to ride rough-shod, particularly in the communities of African Americans and other peoples of color. The police are used to terrorize these communities lest the people begin to rebel, which, as the most oppressed, they have been inclined to do.
What must be done?
Amnesty International in its 1996 report noted that although 125 people were shot dead by cops between 1985 and 1990 alone, only one cop was convicted of a criminal charge during that period.
Since then-although another killer cop, Francis X. Livoti, was acquitted by a New York judge of charges of criminally negligent homicide after he killed Anthony Baez with a deadly choke-hold in 1994-federal prosecutors in 1997 convicted Livoti for civil rights violations and sentenced him to seven and a half years in prison.
But this conviction was only due to the persistent efforts of the Baez family, who have virtually devoted their lives since 1994 to mobilizing hundreds of street and courtroom protests and making Anthony’s case a topic of public discussion.
That is the only way there will be any justice in the case of Amadou Diallo. Broad protests must be organized involving labor, church, campus, and community groups to demand the arrest and prosecution of the four killer cops-McMellon, Carroll, Boss and Murphy.
The protests-initially mostly Black-have begun to include broader sectors of the population. They must continue to expand to include the vast sectors of white workers who need to become conscious that the fight against racism and the brutality of the NYPD against their coworkers in the Black community is their fight too.
The protests also provide the opportunity to begin organizing to get the cops out of the Black community and to establish Black control of the Black community and the police.